Do you have a cookbook that is the star of your cooking bookshelf? One from which every recipe you try makes you just say...WOW!!!? For me, this book is American Masala: 125 New Classics from My Home Kitchen by Indian celebrity chef Suvir Saran. I picked up this book after eating at and loving his (formerly Michelin starred) restaurant Devi in New York, and let me tell you, this is one of the best cookbooks ever! Mostly focused on the theme of spicing up American classics with Indian spices and techniques, every single thing that I've made from this book, be it super simple or more elaborate, has been just wonderful. This crispy salad of fried okra strips tossed with tomato, red onion and coriander and seasoned with Indian chaat masala, chili powder and a bit of salt is the perfect example. It's so simple yet delicious and perfect for a dinner party or whenever you want to impress somebody!
Okra, which here in Paris I buy at Indian grocery stores or the African market in my neighborhood, is a very interesting vegetable. In India, we use it in all kinds of curries and stews. But okra is originally from Africa, and is still a key ingredient in many of the continent's cuisines. Even the word gombo which is used to describe okra in French is actually a Bantu word. Africans also brought okra to the New World with them, as can be seen in dishes such as the Cajun gumbo and the fried okra that is enjoyed in the American South. Now...I know that some of you out there don't like okra and complain about its supposed slimy texture, but I guarantee that you won't be complaining about it in this dish. Fried into crispy strips and spiced up, you - just like the friends of ours who we originally served this to - probably won't even recognize that it's okra!
As for the chaat masala which seasons this salad, the word chaat is a ubiquitous Hindi word that is used to refer to any manner of savory snacks in India, typically consumed at roadside or beachside stalls. Classic chaat dishes include bhel puri, pav bhaji and aloo tikki as well as things like samosas and pakoras topped with chutneys and yogurt. Check out this typical chaat stall at Mumbai's famous Chowpatty Beach!
Chaat masala is a sweet and sour masala or spice mix, typically made with a mixture of dried mango powder (amchur), cumin, black salt (kala namak), coriander, ginger, black pepper, hing (asafoetida) and chili powder. Chaat masala along with a bit of fresh lemon juice seasons all kinds of fruit or vegetable salads which are then served as chaat. These salads are so refreshing and delicious and are perfect on their own or as side dishes...they are in fact one of my favorite parts of Indian cuisine! There are many different brands of chaat masala available at Indian grocery stores, but I personally prefer the Shan brand.
Just a little word about this recipe's author Suvir Saran...not only is he a great restaurateur and cookbook author (in addition to American Masala, his Indian Home Cooking and newest book Masala Farm also get rave reviews)...he is also a really nice guy! Not that I know him personally, but I was once so ecstatic about an incredible eggplant dish with tamarind sauce that I made from American Masala that I was compelled to Tweet about it, mentioning his name. He actually sent me an email thanking me for the Tweet, saying he would let his Aunty Abha who inspired the dish know that she was now a part of the Twitter universe and also wishing me a happy married life (it was not long after my wedding). Isn't that so nice?!?!? I was genuinely touched...and starstruck too! So definitely buy his books in my Amazon store...and make this crispy spicy okra salad ASAP...you won't be sorry!
CRISPY SPICY OKRA SALAD
Adapted from Suvir Saran
1/2 kilogram / 1 pound whole okra
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 large or two small ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
Juice of one lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons chaat masala
1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1/2 - 1 teaspoon chili powder (to taste)
Handful of fresh coriander, chopped
1. Wash and train the okra. Trim the ends.
2. Cut the okra into four lengthwise.
3. In a wok or a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat 2 inches of oil to 350 F / 175 C. Fry the okra in 2-3 batches until crispy and golden on the edges, which generally takes about 5-7 minutes. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
4. Pat the okra dry with additional paper towels and mix well in a large bowl with the onion, tomato, lemon juice, chaat masala, salt, chili powder and coriander.